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Li Na defeats Julia Cohen of US in China

Li Na defeats Julia Cohen of US in China

SHENZHEN, China (AP) Top-seeded Li Na advanced to the Shenzhen Open quarterfinals with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Julia Cohen of the United States in the second round on Wednesday.

The Chinese star overcame five double faults and struggled with her serve during the 94-minute match.

Li will play eighth-seeded Bojana Jovanovski of Serbia.

No. 2-seeded Marion Bartoli also advanced by defeating Swiss qualifier Stefanie Voegele 7-5, 6-4. Bartoli will take on fifth-seeded Klara Zakopalova of the Czech Republic for a place in the semifinals.

China's Zhou Yi-miao, ranked 177, completed the quarterfinals lineup with a 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (3) win over Taiwan's Chang Kai-chen. Romania's Monica Niculescu, who ousted No. 7-seeded Laura Robson in the first round, will take on Zhou on Thursday.

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3 Caps who impressed against the Blues in preview of the season opener

3 Caps who impressed against the Blues in preview of the season opener

Nicklas Backstrom scored with less than seven seconds remaining to give the Capitals the 3-2 win over the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday in a preseason preview of the regular-season opener. Radko Gudas and Richard Panik also scored.

Here are three players who impressed for the Caps.

1. Richard Panik

Panik got plenty of practice on the penalty kill with 4:16 of shorthanded ice time shorthanded. In that time he gave a glimpse of why he was so coveted by the Caps as a free agent.

In the first period, Panik pounced on a loose puck at the top of the faceoff circle in the defensive zone. Seeing he had room to work with, he did not just clear it down the ice and instead elected to skate up with it. He fought off the backcheck from Tyler Bozak through the neutral zone, drew an additional two Blues players to him, then drew a holding call from Bozak because he would not give up the puck.

Panik's 4:16 of penalty kill time was more than top penalty killer Carl Hagelin's 2:26, though the fact that Hagelin took two minors on the night probably had something to do with it.

Late in the game, Panik was also added to the power play as a sixth attacker with the goalie pulled. He would score the game-tying goal with just 1:09 left in regulation.

2. The goalies

Vitek Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov both played about a half of the game. It is really hard to evaluate a goalie on just 30 minutes of work, so I will give a shoutout to both as both played very well.

Vanecek got the start. He looked a little awkward at first, but settled in as the game went along for a solid performance. He stopped 13 of the 14 shots he faced with the only goal he allowed a weird deflection off of Brett Leason’s skate.

Samsonov took over about halfway through the second period and within minutes found himself defending the net on a 5-on-3 penalty kill. The penalty killers helped out their young netminder allowing only one shot on goal, but it was a good one. Colton Parayko one-timed a slap shot, but Samsonov was there to stop with no rebound. Soon after the penalty was over, Vladimir Tarasenko was all alone in front of the net, but was denied by Samsonov’s who stretched the blocker to deny the high shot.

Sanford scores on the PP. Samsonov wasn't tight against the post. Showed him too much daylight and Sanford made him pay.

Samsonov finished with 11 saves on 12 shots.

3. Connor McMichael

Boy, somebody got a confidence boost from Monday’s game. 

McMichael was given a second preseason game as a reward for his solid performance on Monday and he definitely showed off the confidence that comes along with being a first-round draft pick.

In the first period, McMichael found himself all alone with the puck on a mini-breakaway on Jordan Binnington. Just a reminder, this is the Binnington who was the starting goalie for the Stanley Cup champions.

So what did McMichael do? He skated to the front and tried the stick between the legs shot. It may not have worked, but you have to respect the confidence this kid had just to try, though no doubt the coaches probably had a few words for him in the locker room about it.

There was one area in which McMichael struggled, however, and that was on the faceoff where he lost all five draws he took on the night.

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Max Scherzer, Nationals undone by little things in St. Louis

Max Scherzer, Nationals undone by little things in St. Louis

Wednesday’s question around Max Scherzer centered on which version of the right-hander would do the pitching. Would it be the one from two starts ago who looked like the pitcher everyone was so accustomed to seeing? Or the one from his last start, less sharp, fastball a tick down in velocity and life?

Scherzer threw a first-pitch, 95-mph fastball Wednesday. He was loose and sharp. His outing also probably handed the Cy Young Award to New York’s Jacob deGrom.

The issues were less his doing than his teammates. Scherzer’s final line, 6 ⅔ innings, seven hits, five earned runs, 11 strikeouts, no walks, bumped his ERA to 2.81. But, Juan Soto lost a fly ball in the sun which otherwise would have ended the seventh inning. Catch it, and here’s Scherzer’s line: seven innings pitched, five hits -- two of which were bloops -- two earned runs, no walks, 11 strikeouts. Scherzer would be directly responsible for not throwing a cutter in far enough against wonder boy Tommy Edman, who hit it for a home run in the third inning. Otherwise, stellar.

Instead, a single drove in a run after the Soto mistake. A Matt Wieters pinch-hit two-run homer drove Scherzer out of the game following the single. Hence, the bloated line in a high-profile game. The rise in ERA, the loss, the box score telling a partial fib, all those things strongly enhance what was already a strong case for deGrom. Scherzer could never makeup the workload gap in the race, but could hang around or lead in all the peripherals. Wednesday’s outing made that much more difficult. 

The Nationals also never found a way to a damn-busting hit. Asdrúbal Cabrera’s deep fly ball to right field was prevented from going over the fence by a leaping Dexter Fowler, a would-be three-run homer turned into another sigh against St. Louis. The Cardinals made plays, Washington did not. St. Louis wins two of three in a series against Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Scherzer as a result.

Washington holds a one-game lead for the top wild-card spot before play begins Wednesday night. Chicago hosts Cincinnati. Milwaukee hosts San Diego. Things are tight.

The Nationals don’t play Thursday. A three-game weekend series begins in Miami on Friday. A sweep resets Washington’s season. It would also make it 16-3 against Miami this year. Anyting less? Not great.

Washington will have a slight advantage -- in theory -- going forward because it has the dual benefit of a lead (however small) as well as a game in hand on Chicago and Milwaukee. Who will pitch that extra game? Joe Ross is injured. The recent rotation shuffling for the weekend -- Aníbal Sánchez on Friday, Strasburg on Saturday and Austin Voth bumped to Sunday -- means Erick Fedde or Jeremy Hellickson would handle the day game Tuesday in Nationals Park. 

The Nationals are 6-10 in the last two-plus weeks. They haven’t lost their postseason spot --yet. However, it’s slipping, tenuous and in doubt, and Wednesday afternoon didn’t help.

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